The suitability and safety of a workwear garment is largely determined by the material and fabrics it is made with. While it may seem all work shirts are very similar, there are some technical differences between different styles that you should be aware of, so you can choose the right garment that will keep you and your staff protected for longer.
It’s important to realise that different work environments and jobs require different types of workwear. For example, someone working on an oil rig may require flame retardant clothing, and someone working at a bench may require a heavy weight fabric, at least on the front, to stop wear.
This article will cover the different fabrics used in workwear, the various fabric weights and their ideal applications and differences in fabric quality and how to tell if a garment is manufactured well.
The different fabrics used in workwear
Most fabrics used in workwear are a compound of several materials or fibres to provide a blend of comport and durability.
- Polyamide fibres – An example of polyamide fibres is nylon, which is commonly used in workwear, thanks to its strength and durability. They hold more moisture and dry more slowly than other fabrics however, meaning they are more commonly used as a blend with other, high performance fabrics. Badger’s freezer wear uses Ripstop nylon for its superior strength and longevity.
- Polyester fibres – Polyester has become very popular, thanks to its moisture wicking properties and light weight. It isn’t a very soft/comfortable fabric however, so it’s often used along with cotton to provide a durable and comfortable garment.
- Natural fibres – These fibres come from natural polymers such as cotton, wool and down, and provide comfort and thermal properties. They don’t have the strength and durability of synthetic alternatives, so they are often blended with a poly fibre.
High performance fibres – Technology advancements has allowed performance fibres to be produced which have exceptional features and properties. Some examples include ceramic fibres, carbon fibre, stainless steel and aluminium, all of which are used in specialist workwear for various reasons (puncture resistance, cut resistance etc.).
Common fabric weights used for workwear
Fabric weight refers to the weight of the fabric in grams per square metre (gsm). Different weights provide different levels of abrasion resistance, resistance to ‘wear-n-tear’, warmth, breathability and so on. In regard to breathability, while a lightweight garment (i.e. 155gsm) may be cooler than a heavyweight version (310gsm), the garment design is also important.
Something with a loose fit and/or air flow panels will generally keep you cooler.
Typical workwear fabric weights that meet Australia standards (AS2001.2.13) are:
How to tell the quality of a workwear fabric
There are a few aspects of workwear fabric that you can look at to determine its quality.
How long will your hi vis yellow shirt stays hi vis? Colour fastness refers to how long a dye colours stays in the fabric, presuming the washing instructions for the garment are followed. A quality dying process will produce a high level of colour fastness, so your garments will keep their colour and maintain your worker’s visibility and corporate image.
The strength of the fabric used in workwear is a vital aspect, especially for specialist workwear such as flame retardant or arc flash gear. The strength is determined by the type fabrics used (see the section above for more detail) and the method of fabric construction. Stronger fabrics generally last longer, as well as offering more protection.
Because workwear is often washed often and with harsh, industrial methods, garment shrinkage is common. A good quality fabric is pre-shrunk extensively, so it doesn’t change shape and size once its been made into a garment.
The general industry requirement outlined in the EN/ISO standards is the garment shrinks by a maximum of 3.0% at 600°C for a three-cycle wash and tumble dry.
While the fabric type and construction are key in how comfortable the garment turns out, the finishing process used is also important. The gauge stitching used, location of seams, moisture level and other so on all have an impact on the end result.